Deaf Texan exonerated of child sex assault freed

A deaf man exonerated of the rape of a 5-year-old suburban Dallas girl was released Tuesday after 17 years in prison, one day after a judge determined he was innocent.

Stephen Brodie's dad was there to greet the 39-year-old north Texas man when he walked out of the Dallas County jail. Brodie said through an interpreter that he was looking forward to being able to have lunch with his dad, J. Steve Brodie, now that he was out of jail.

Brodie also received an apology from Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, whose office had reopened the case and whose investigation ultimately led to Brodie's exoneration.

A bureaucratic matter had kept Brodie from being released Monday, when a judge ruled Brodie had been wrongly prosecuted despite an absence of physical evidence linking him to the attack. Brodie also was serving prison time for failing to register in Lamar County as a sex offender. With the elimination of his 1993 conviction in the 1990 rape of the Richardson girl, he no longer needed to register and state prison officials signed off on his release Tuesday.

Brodie originally was arrested in 1991 for stealing quarters from a vending machine at a community swimming pool. While he was being questioned about that crime, police began asking about the unsolved rape of the 5-year-old girl a year earlier.

The case was reopened after his father wrote a letter to Watkins' office, which had started a unit dedicated to re-examining possible innocence cases.

Brodie has been deaf since childhood, but police questioned him for hours without an interpreter. He eventually confessed, but later told The Associated Press he felt scared and pressured.

Richardson police said Monday that Brodie initially declined their offer of an interpreter.

When a judge ruled the confession was admissible at trial, Brodie and his attorney figured a guilty verdict, which was punishable by up to 99 years, was all but certain. So they cut a deal — pleading guilty to assaulting the girl in exchange for a five-year sentence. After serving that sentence, Brodie served two more prison stints totaling five more years for twice failing to register as a sex offender.

Brodie was convicted even though a hair and a fingerprint that police believed came from the perpetrator were not a match. Moore said prosecutors failed to notify Brodie's trial attorney that testing showed the hair excluded Brodie as the source.

When Brodie was arrested and convicted, police knew the fingerprint, found on the window through which the perpetrator entered the victim's home, did not match their suspect or anyone living there.

A year after Brodie's conviction, police learned the fingerprint belonged to Robert Warterfield, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 1994. Warterfield also was suspected by Dallas police in the dozen unsolved sexual assaults and attempted assaults of young girls in the Dallas area.

Warterfield, who is free and working for a yard service in Stephenville, according to the state sex offender registry, was never charged in the attack for which Brodie served time. Watkins has said his office is investigating Warterfield.

Warterfield appeared at Brodie's hearing Monday and invoked the Fifth Amendment right to not provide testimony that might incriminate himself.